A Paperless Classroom???

You’re kidding right?  How can you have a school classroom without paper?

That’s right, though.  Mr. Curtis has a (mostly) paperless classroom.  Handouts are emailed.  Homework is online.  Classwork is digital.  We can have a language arts class without paper.

Okay, maybe you can’t be entirely paperless, but in Mr. Curtis’ room we strive to get away from paper for a few reasons.

Reason 1

That whole thing about the environment. 

Before you accuse me of going around hugging trees and all that sort of stuff, let’s just look at this problem logically.  We’ll just do a quick math problem.  A typical 6th grade language arts classroom might use 2-4 pieces of paper per kid on an average school day.  That’s copy paper, loose leaf paper, and notebook paper.  We write a lot in language arts, so we can use piles of paper very quickly.  Some days it’s less, but for some big projects we might use 8-10 pieces for each kid, so, to make it fair…

Let’s say we use 3 pieces a day per student.  Mr. Curtis usually has around 75 students a year, so that’s 225 pieces of paper a day.

Multiply 225 pieces a day by 180 school days.  That comes out to 40,500 pieces of paper!!! That’s just for language arts in my room, and doesn’t include the other 40+ teachers in the school.

There are 500 pieces of paper in a ream – that’s one of those packs that copy paper comes in.  That means a typical language arts classroom uses 81 reams of paper a year!!!

So what, right?  What does that really mean?

I recently read somewhere that you can make 17 reams of paper from an average tree, which means that a typical language arts classroom kills 4.8 trees per year.   Multiply that out by the 40 classrooms in our school and you have almost 200 trees each year getting chopped down for MIS homework – that’s a lot of squirrel homes.

I’ve never hugged a tree, but I like them. They make shade and oxygen and are fun to climb and squirrels live there, so if we can figure out a way to make language arts class work without the tree death, let’s do it.

 Reason 2


 Money is good.  Even though you can’t climb it and squirrels don’t live in it, it’s almost as good as trees.

A ream of paper costs, on average, about $5.50.

Let’s pretend that half the paper comes from the school copiers and half comes from the loose leaf paper and notebooks that parents buy at the start of the school year.  That’s 40.5 reams of paper or $222.75 less the school has to spend on paper AND it’s $222.75 back in the wallets of all the parents.  Divide that by 75 students now and you get only about $3.00 per student, so it doesn’t seem like a whole lot of money.  BUT, if you do the math the opposite way and think about $222.75 saved in one classroom and multiply that by the 40 classrooms at MIS, that’s $8,910.  Multiply that by 6 schools in the district and you get over $50,000, and that’s not even counting all the paper used in the offices, and it doesn’t count all the printer ink, copy machine toner, repairs, electricity…

Of course, that math has a lot of “what-ifs” and a few guesses involved in how much paper is used in every classroom, but it’s probably pretty close.

I can’t imagine what the schools could do with and extra 50K, but I know that if I could keep the 200 bucks my class saves each year,  I could buy a few more laptops or some cool books to share with students or I could save up for neat stuff like Flip video cameras, iPads, digital cameras, or one really awesome pizza party.

 Reason 3

21st Century Learning

My job as a teacher is to prepare kids for what’s next in their lives.  Reading is a vital skill, and being able to communicate your ideas in writing is something they’ll have to do later in life no matter what job they have, so it’s an important subject.   However, even though I love teaching English, I realize none of these kids are going to grow up to have a job where the boss comes to them each morning and demands, “I need you to take this worksheet and circle all the verbs on it, and I need it on my desk ASAP!!!”

Things like reading and writing are important, but so much has changed since I was a kid.  We can’t look in an encyclopedia to get the latest information for our reports, because the encyclopedia is outdated before it even gets to the library.  Think about it.  Can you go to the public library right now and find information in the encyclopedia about the revolution going on in Egypt right now , or the horrible tragedy that happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, or how many much trouble ARod is in right now?  Nope, but I can get information about those things from my pocket – just pull out the smart phone and look online.

It’s a different world than the one I grew up in, and it will be even more different when these kids are adults.  They need to learn how to swim in those waters.  They’re growing up in a world where you don’t get the news on network TV at 10:00pm, you get a text from CNN.com or a Facebook message from a friend or your Twitter feed.  You don’t write a pen and paper letter to grandma, you text her, “hey. ‘sup?” (Yes, they do that.  My niece sent that very text to my mom last week).   You don’t have just a few encyclopedias or a handful of experts to consult, but gigantic websites like Wikipedia and a gazillion blogs that everyone and their mother writes about their favorite topics – and those aren’t a bad thing – it’s great that there’s that much information out there, but it is a different world.

When I was a kid, I used the encyclopedia.  It may have been a bit outdated, but it was accurate and factual.  Nowadays you have a gazillion times more resources and info to sort through, but you have to be able to determine what’s accurate and factual and what’s just some weirdo in his basement spouting his opinions.  (There’s nothing wrong with the basement weirdos having opinions, but we need to be sure that we make sure a source is factual), and we have to be able to tell the real facts from the basementweirdopinions.

The online world can be a great tool.  Kids can share their writing with peers, and they can add their 2 cents by commenting on what other people have to say – that way, when they write a paper, they can get feedback from other kids, not just the teacher.

In today’s world, everyone has a forum to share their beliefs and opinions if they want to.  They can collaborate on projects with classmates, or with kids from other classes, or kids from different schools, or even kids from different parts of the world.  They can sit in silence in a classroom, but use a chatroom to have a deep, meaningful conversation about literature with the other kids, the teacher, or even the parents – or they could be involved in two or three conversations at the same time (there’s no way you can do that out loud).  All of these are tools that help the kids become better readers, better writers, and give them the 21st century skills they’ll need moving forward in school and beyond.

With email, texting, blogging, internet resources, GPS devices, smartphones, online shopping and billing, news sites, ebooks and magazines, and all these other advances, the real world is phasing out paper.  School is supposed to prepare kids for the real world, so let’s get them ready for one without paper.

Because of this, Mr. Curtis’ class is one of a few in District 201 where students will be allowed to bring in their own internet devices: tablets, e-readers, or laptops will be welcome (of course they are the students’ responsibility, not Mr. Curtis’ or the school’s/district’s).  We’ll also allow smart phones or iPod’s that can connect online (however, these can not be used during testing because the screen won’t format the test right).    There are also some really old, mostly reliable laptops available in my room for kids who don’t have their own internet device.   Of course, there’s some rules about all this, but we’ll let the office handle all the rules – they sent out a internet usage guidelines thingie to everyone already.

 How will this paperless stuff work?

Is it feasible to eliminate all paper use?  No.  Sometimes you need a physical copy of something.  The kids do need a notebook to jot down notes in, but a great deal of the paper will be eliminated.

The office will still send stuff home on paper, but my class will use email.  We’ll submit almost all of our assignments online (and don’t worry, if they don’t have a computer at home they’ll have some time at school or long enough time that they can use a computer at the public library or a friend’s house), and all of it will be done on a secure website that no one outside our school can use.

All my grades are available on teacherease.com, so if you don’t have an account, I can help you set it up for free.  Quarterly progress reports that are sent home by other teachers on paper are usually 2-3 pages long.  Since that’s a whole lot of paper, I’ll only send paper reports home to parents that request a paper copy.

I have a class website that will show all our assignments and their due dates.  The kids will submit a lot of their work right to that site, but we’ll also use a wiki page, their own student webpages (that we’ll create), and a few other web 2.0 tools.

Is all this online stuff safe?  You do know there’s weirdos online, right?

There’s weirdos everywhere?  I saw one at the mall yesterday.  So, the best way to protect our kids from bad stuff is to talk about it, teach them about it, and show them how to avoid it.

Here at school it will be a weirdo free zone.  All of the sites we’ll chat on, have discussions through, and submit work with will be ones that only the kids, the teachers, administrators, and parents can access.   When the kids reply to questions on my website, all their comments and posts have to be approved by me before they make it online.  I encourage the kids to be critical of one another, to be honest, and to share opinions, but I will not tolerate rudeness, name-calling, or bullying.

When we use the wiki pages, the site we use is only open to our students.  No one else (except a few of the school administrators) has access to it.  Every post that’s made is made with a name/time/date attached to it, so a kid could post something mean or inappropriate if they wanted, but we’d know who did it, and they would lose computer privileges.  I think the kids need the freedom to make the correct choices, so I use these lessons as a place to talk to them about internet safety and being careful about what kinds of information, pictures, or posts you put online.

Technology can be scary.  Just about any invention can be used for good things or bad.  You could use an airplane to travel safely and quickly, or you could use an airplane to drop bombs.  You could use a gun to protect your family or hunt for food, or you could use a gun to rob a bank.  You could use a garden hose to water your flowers, or you could use that garden hose to torment your little sister and her friends (I was a mean brother sometimes).

Computers are no different.  They can be fantastic learning tools, or they could be used for bad stuff.  Kids need to be taught the good, and also taught how to avoid the bad.

Come on, is this Language Arts and Literature class, or is it Computers class?

Like I said earlier, it seems the whole world has gone paperless (at least to some extent).  We don’t live in the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages, or even the Industrial Age anymore.  We live in the Digital Age.  Everything we do is through Facebook, Twitter, texts, blogs, wikis, podcasts, YouTube videos, Google, Amazon, EBay, PDFs, ebooks, iPods/iPhones/iPads…

Believe me, it’s a literature class.  We focus a ton on reading.  We read just about every day.

It is a language arts class.  We write every day.

It’s how we read, where we read, how we write, and where we write that has changed in this digital age.

I want these kids to be ready for that.

2 responses

18 08 2013
Welcome to 6th Grade!!! | mcliterature

[…] A Paperless Classroom??? […]

22 08 2013
Monica Jasper

As a tree-hugger, I love the paperless classroom!

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